Everytime someone invites me to connect with them, I always send out a reply thanking them and also asking them to contact me should they ever need any help with LinkedIn. I have had so many people, either directly or indirectly, help me that I thought I should give something back to the community. Well, not everyone asks me a question, but by far the question that I get the most is “How can I grow my network on LinkedIn?”
As I have seen my network grow from a few hundred to a few thousand connections over the past several months, I believe I have the experience to be able to help you effectively grow your network to meet whatever objective you might have. That being said, there are many ways to achieve this and you will need to be the judge as to which methods you use.
First of all, I think it is necessary to understand why a large network on LinkedIn is important. I believe that the main purpose in using this social networking for professionals is TO FIND AND BE FOUND. In order to do this, you need to use the Advanced Search functionality, which will give you the top 500 results based on whatever search terms you entered from within your network. Your network is defined as your direct connections (1st degree), your 1st degree connections’ connections (2nd degree), and your 2nd defree connections’ connections (3rd degree). When you first joined LinkedIn, any search you did may not have given you a total of 500 results, but as you grow your network, you will realize why some people pay to get 1000 instead of 500 results. A good example is when I was looking for people in the Staffing and Recruiting industry (headhunters, etc.) who might be working in my field of specialty (IPTV). I would enter the keyword IPTV and select the Staffing and Recruiting industry and voila! I would get 70+ people that popped up. I just checked now for the first time in a month and the number is up to 90+. The larger the network, the more you will find and be found. A side point is that your search results will always change as your network grows, so make sure you do regular searches for finding people that are important to you and do not get frustrated if nothing shows up on your first search.
Now that we know why it is important to grow our network, let’s look at some of the common ways we can achieve this. There are two types of ways to achieve this: 1) an active way, utilizing one’s invitations, and 2) a passive way, hoping that people will find you and invite you to their network.
ACTIVE WAYS TO GROW A NETWORK USING INVITES
1. Invite Co-Workers from Past and Present Companies
This sounds very simple and indeed is. LinkedIn offers ways for you to easily find people from your past companies that are LinkedIn members. You can then connect up without knowing their E-Mail address. This is really the reason why most people are on LinkedIn and how LinkedIn began to develop, to find old colleagues. However, you can only find people if your profile is up-to-date. That means the more companies that you say that you worked for in your profile, the more colleagues you will find. Make sure you complete your profile for every job you have held since you started working for opimium results.
2. Invite Classmates from Present and Past Schools
You will not find nearly as many classmates on here as you will on classmates.com LinkedIn is really about professionals networking with each other. But you can find old classmates on LinkedIn just as you can find old colleagues. In order to do so, though, you need to have your profile updated for every school that you have attended…but maybe not every school. About 99% of the profiles I see only go back as far as their college. I have added my high school to my profile, but I have only been able to find other classmates not through this feature but by doing a keyword search for my high school name. During and after college I spent time doing foreign language study at colleges in China, Taiwan, and Japan, and I have added these to my profile. Through this I was able to hook up with a guy from 1988-89 foreign student class in Beijing for the first time since! Anyways, I would recommend putting every school you attended starting from high school to maximize the benefits here.
3. Invite Business and Personal Contacts Using the LinkedIn Functionality of Checking Your Outlook Address Book or Webmail Address Book
This is the way that new people generally get invited in to the LinkedIn network. LinkedIn will conveniently check your address books and allow you to see who is in LinkedIn and then automatically generate an invitation with one easy push of the button. I caution you here not to just invite anyone and everyone that shows up on these lists. You may have E-Mailed a bunch of companies asking for a quote on some home improvement project, for instance, and these people will show up here…do you really want to invite the guy who’s business you turned down? You could have an Outlook contact of someone who is now working at your competition…do you want him to be part of your network? You really need to go through the results here carefully and only keep the checks on those people that 1) are on LinkedIn (they should be displaying in a different color with more information) and 2) you feel will add value to your network. One final note here is that I recommend you DO NOT invite anyone who is not currently a member of LinkedIn. We all find out the hard way, but LinkedIn places an initial limit on the number of invitations that can be sent out to 3,000. That’s definitely a lot of invitations that will take you time to burn through…but you will burn through them as you navigate through the members of this 24 million strong community and build your network. So if there are contacts who are not on LinkedIn that you invite and never sign up, your invitation will be wasted. Whether the invitation is accepted, ignored, not delivered, etc., it doesn’t matter. Your invitation has been used up.
4. Invite LIONs That You Find Through Advanced Searches
I assume that if you are reading this you already know what a LION is…if you do not please look at my post titled “What is a LinkedIn LION?” LIONs are self-defined “open networkers” are probably the least risky way of adding new contacts to your network. Simply putting “LION” as a keyword in an Advanced Search will give you a list of plenty of LIONs that you can contact and invite. One word of caution is that I highly recommend that you read through each LION’s profile and understand their contact settings and desires to be or not to be contacted. There are some people who require you to send a personalized invite, others that will ask you to open up your contacts to them. Only invite those that truly welcome open invitations, and please thank them after they accept your invitation!
5. Invite Group Members from Groups That You Belong to
There are many Groups that you can join on LinkedIn, and now that you can easily search for Groups (YES!), you can easily find a group that you can align yourself with and join. Although I was initially intimidated to join a group, it is a very easy process and I don’t think I have been refused entry to a group so far, although there are some that will ask you to register on their websites. Also, some groups that you join will send out regular E-Mails as a condition of your membership. And your contact information will be made available to the Group Master for them to use at their discreion. But joining a group is easy, and benefits you in that you can now search within your group as part of an Advanced Search and see people that may not already be part of your extended network. As for inviting people from within a group, the same rule applies to which LIONs you invite: check their profile, and if they say nothing about being an open networker, do not risk yourself by inviting them. I made the mistake early on of inviting someone just because they were the member of the same group. BIG MISTAKE. One IDK later I came to the conclusion that just because you think that someone in your group would welcome an invite from their fellow group member doesn’t mean that they think the same. That being said, there are a few groups, which I am also a member of (two of which I will also mention in the Passive Ways to Grow a Network Section) that I do recommend because they are primarily set up for open networkers to connect with each other:
6. Invite Other People in Your Network to Connect After Finding Them on an Advanced Search
The value of LinkedIn is that there is no other site for professionals where you can absolutely pinpoint and contact a person in a certain industry with a certain company and title. If you are in sales (or are a recruiter), LinkedIn is like a heaven-sent gift. That being said, you will get kicked out of LinkedIn if you do not respect the wishes of others that do not want to be bothered by invites, which they will report back as spam (yes, this is worse than an IDK). Many CEOs that I have met have commented that they saw LinkedIn as merely a way of getting back in touch with old colleagues. However, the people you find in your concentrated search that you absolutely would like to contact but are not part of any common group or show any preference to open networking are the most difficult and sometimes the most valuable people to be in contact with. Before inviting these people, I suggest that you send them an InMail, or if they have an E-Mail address listed somewhere in their profile, first send them an E-Mail indicating why you would like to connect with them. If they have an InMail account, you can send them a direct E-Mail for free without being directly connected, although this will cost you an Introduction (you have 5 at anytime to use). On the other hand, if you become a paid member, you do have an opportunity to send out InMails as part of your subscription. One rule of thumb that I have used is if they have their E-Mail address in their profile they are open to being contacted, but remember to first always read their profile and contact settings before attempting a connection.
PASSIVE WAYS TO GROW A NETWORK BY RECEIVING INVITES
1. Completely Fill Out Your Work Profile
This goes hand-in-hand with actively finding people as LinkedIn is about finding and being found. I recommend including every job that you would put on your resume, including early positions you held just after graduating from school. The content is not as important as just putting the company name and years you worked there. That is enough to be found.
2. Completely Fill Out Your Education Profile
This is the exact same concept as completely filling out your work profile. I would put every school attended since and including high school in your profile. If you studied overseas during or after college, or you got an Executive MBA or other degree of higher education, be sure to put those in your profile as well so that you can be found by past classmates.
3. State That You Are a LION in Your Profile
As I mentioned in my post “How Do I Become a LinkedIn LION?“, there is no single way to depict yourself as a LION in your profile. The objective is that when people search for other LIONs to connect with, in addition to looking for members from specific LION groups (please see my mention of these groups above), they will just enter “LION” as a keyword and see who comes up in their network. If you come up in that search you have included enough information about being a LION in your profile to be found. While this turns out to be an exercise in Search Engine Optimization, the easiest way to do this is just put the term LION next to your name in italics or parantheses. Feel free to also look at my profile to see how I indicate that I am a LION.
4. State That You Accept Invites in Your Profile
If people read your profile and you indicate in your contact settings, summary, or headline that you accept invites, it will become easy for you to receive more invitations because open networkers will not be afraid of receiving the dreaded “IDK” from you. There is no fixed way of doing this, but feel free to look at my profile, or simply do an Advanced Search with “Invite” as the keyword and see how other people do it.
5. Register Yourself at TopLinked.com
As I mentioned above, TopLinked.com is a site/group that you should definitely register on if you want to receive more invites. Members of TopLinked.com are open networkers that promise not to send out IDKs to invites. In addition, if you register correctly (i.e. put “TopLinked.com” in your headline), a link to your profile will be included on their home page, making it even easier for people to find you.
6. Register yourself at MyLink500.
I also mentioned the excellent MyLink500.com site/group above, and this is also an excellent group to join to receive more invites. Like TopLinked.com, MyLink500.com also includes a home page that you can register on and include your information, includng E-Mail address, to make it easy to be found. Highly recommended. (Revision: It appears that this site is currently not functioning so the link has been removed from this post.)
7. Join Groups for Open Networkers
By joining the same groups for open networkers that I recommended joining above in active ways to increase your network, you will become more likely to be found by other open networkers, especially those that are already group members.
8. Join Groups in Whatever You are Interested in or Groups That Meet Your Objective
If you are an open networker and want to be found, I highly recommend that you search for groups using the new search engine in LinkedIn and join those groups that you would like to increase your network in. You will see many open networkers who will try to join as many groups as possible in order to get maximum exposure, but I stick to the approach of only joining those groups that meet my objective and that I can bring value to. If you do so, you will be more likely to receive invites from serious group members that aren’t necessarily open networkers.
9. Pay to Get Invited
This is a new phenomenon that just started in the summer of 2008. Two of the groups that I recommend, TopLinked.com and Invites Welcome!, have started an annual subscription fee ($30/$20 annual respectively) where they will include your E-Mail address on the invites list that they send out each week to all their group members. You will get all sorts of people inviting you, and you do not need to accept those that you do not want entering your network by simply archiving the invite. But of all of the methods listed above, this is by far the fastest and best way to passively grow your network, at a price.
With the exception of 9., you should not expect to start getting tens or hundreds of invites a day passively. In my own personal experience, when I had about 3000 connections I noticed that I would start getting a regular daily batch of about 10 invites. So if you are not getting enough invites passively do not worry…they will come in proportion to how large the reach of your network is, as well as doing the other things that I recommend above.